Spring Breakers (2013)

28 Mar


Smith’s Verdict: ***1/2

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

How do I even begin to describe my feeling towards Harmony Korine’s “Spring Breakers?” This film is so surreal, so oddly-executed, so vulgar, so raunchy, so ambitious…and yet so unique, so powerful, and so effective. This film, written and directed by the polarizing Harmony Korine (whose screenplay for Larry Clark’s “Kids” was very unusual and yet effective in that way), is like a bizarre, candy-colored fantasy about wild, reckless teenage girls having a blast on a most peculiar Spring Break.

Anyone who knows of Korine’s work (which also includes “Gummo” and “Trash Humpers”) is most likely going to expect something very strange out of a fairly simple concept—capture the lives of ordinary people as characters. The results are usually not as “simple” as they would seem—the characters in his stories don’t feel like characters in execution; actually, they’re not even very likeable…but they seem all too real. That was the case with the loathsome teenager Telly in “Kids,” and this is the case with the four teenage girls in “Spring Breakers.”

Teenage girls Faith (Selena Gomez), Candy (Vanessa Hudgens), Brit (Ashley Benson), and Cotty (Rachel Korine) are four lifelong friends who seek a memorable Spring Break vacation. But they lack enough money for room-and-board, as well as booze and drugs. How do three of the girls (the three nastier ones of the group) obtain the money? They rob a chicken restaurant, with ski masks and fake pistols to make them look threatening.

By the way, that scene is very well-done, as it occurs in one tracking sequence that shows from the camera’s exterior perspective how it all goes down. And the scene returns later, only this time we’re in that restaurant with the people who are frightened by these felons, and so are we, because we see how downright vicious they were. The three are telling (and reenacting) this story to their sweeter friend (Faith) who might actually start to believe that she’s hanging with the wrong people. (They, however, are laughing like hyenas as they retell the story.) But nothing is certain unless it needs to be, just like in reality.

Anyway, for about the first 40 minutes, “Spring Breakers” is thin on story, but rich with style as the girls go about their Spring Break out of town and enjoy themselves by drinking, getting high, gyrating, fooling around with strangers, cruising around on rented scooters, enjoying sunsets with their arms wrapped around each other, and just having a great time, all while Korine uses handheld camera movements and a particularly effective soundtrack to make it look like an even more perverse version of “Girls Gone Wild.” Then, the girls are arrested, jailed, and thrown in court (and still in their bikinis, no less), and they realize that too much of their fun can lead to this. This is where the film suddenly takes a new story turn, as the girls are bailed out by a “gangsta rappa” dubbed “Alien” (James Franco) in exchange for being in the company of him and his own posse as they enjoy Spring Break their own way. Alien considers himself “legit”—he deals drugs, is filthy-rich, has a ridiculous amount of weaponry, and even has twin henchmen to look out for him. And he’s definitely not afraid to let anyone know it, including his new women—in a monologue inside his pad, he constantly uses the phrase, “Look at my s—.”

This is where “Spring Breakers” takes a most sociopathic turn, as the girls have fun with their new predatory acquaintance by playing with guns, fooling around, and lose their innocence more and more (what little they had left, anyway). Things get even darker when Alien’s enemy, another drug dealer, and his allies warns Alien to stop selling in his territory. Of course, Alien ignores him and this leads to a drive-by shooting, which will lead to an ultimate retaliation.

The casting is very spot-on, to say the least. To see Franco in this performance is to believe him. Very rarely do I see James Franco in a “performance,” but here, he really steals the show. This “Alien” character (his real name is Al) deserves his own movie.


For those who saw the names Selena Gomez and Vanessa Hudgens (both former Disney Channel starlets), and Ashley Benson (TV’s “Pretty Little Liars”), listed above as three actresses who co-star in this film, and are wondering if you read that correctly…you did. The fact of the matter is that these actresses (along with Rachel Korine, Harmony’s wife) are all undeniably convincing. In particular, I want to bring up Selena Gomez. Selena Gomez’s character of Faith, a good Christian girl, is the only one with a soul, while the other three are just plain foul with hardly a trace of a clear conscience anymore. She actually leaves the group midway through the movie because she has gotten as far as she wanted to go with her experiencing with rebellion. This gives Gomez the more complicated role to pull off, and I can’t emphasize this enough—she does.

What “Spring Breakers” does different from Hollywood comedies that use Spring Break as a setup is that it doesn’t emphasize on the fun that these stupid young people seem to have. Instead, it gives us something completely original, almost a different genre of itself (I can see many ripoffs coming after this hits its inevitable “cult-classic” status). It has a bitter essence to it while also getting its laughs from just the unusual psychoticism of certain situations—for example, there’s one particularly odd scene in which Alien plays a touching Britney Spears song (“Everytime”) on the piano while three gun-toting nymphs are accompanying his performance. Watch that scene, and you’ll know that while you’re stuck on knowing exactly how to feel, you can’t deny its originality.

The only thing about “Spring Breakers” I didn’t find fitting in comparison to everything that followed it was the ending. Without giving too much away, it’s supposed to show the growth of certain characters who resort to ultimate destruction to put an end to their paradisiac holiday. First of all, I felt the development of moving along a better path was somewhat sporadic. Second of all, it seemed a little conventional, which is odd to say, especially considering that the rest of the film is far from conventional.

Any other writer-director other than Harmony Korine, and “Spring Breakers” would have been just another raunchy Spring Break comedy. As it is, it’s dark and adamant. Maybe a little too much—I admit, I left the theater feeling somewhat bitter and cold because of everything that was being thrown at me. One thing I can say for sure about “Spring Breakers”—it’s the most unforgettable film of 2013 so far.

NOTE: I mentioned the “particularly effective” soundtrack—the end-credits are played under the hauntingly beautiful Ellie Goulding song “Lights.” That song is now “haunting” for different reasons.

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